Gabriels redemption, p.13
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       Gabriels Redemption, p.13

         Part #3 of Gabriels Inferno series by Sylvain Reynard
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Page 13


  But he hopes you’ll forgive him.

  It took an instant for her to read it. And when she did, she restrained a laugh, resulting in a strangled snort.

  The sound echoed around the room and the lecturer looked up from his notes, wondering how a wild pig had managed to wander into St. Anne’s College in order to attend his paper.

  Blushing furiously, Julia feigned a coughing fit, while Gabriel patted her back. When the lecture eventually continued, he added to his missive,

  I’m sorry I embarrassed you.

  I promise I’ll do better.

  You are not a speed bump.

  You’re my Beatrice.

  Julia’s delicate features lightened, and he watched as her shoulders relaxed.

  Hesitantly, she reached out her baby finger and linked it with his own. This was her way of holding his hand without others seeing.

  He curved his pinky around hers, looking at her from out of the corner of his eye.

  Yes, Professor Emerson could be an ass, on occasion. But at least he was sorry.

  After the conference ended for the day, Katherine spirited Julia away to The Eagle and Child pub for a drink. The pub was referred to locally as “The Bird and Baby,” or “The Fowl and Foetus. ” It was, perhaps, the most famous pub in Oxford. Julia was eager to see it because it had been one of the meeting places of the Inklings, the literary group that included C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams.

  Inside, Katherine purchased two pints of Caledonian ale and piloted her former student to a back corner. Once they were comfortable, she clinked their glasses together and took a long pull from her pint.

  “It’s good to see you, Julianne. You’re looking well. ” Katherine took in her former student’s appearance with a single glance. “Your wedding was a triumph. I haven’t had that much fun in years. ”

  “I’m so glad you could join us. ” Julia gripped her glass a little too tightly, the whiteness of her knuckles telegraphing her nervousness.

  “Are you anxious about your lecture?”

  “Somewhat. ” Julia sipped her ale, wondering why Katherine had insisted on speaking to her alone.

  “It’s understandable to be apprehensive, but you’ll do fine. No doubt you’re still a bit shaken after encountering that dreadful woman. ”

  Julia’s stomach flipped, and she nodded.

  Katherine noted that the other patrons were engaged in their own conversations before continuing.

  “Did Gabriel ever explain how I came to be in his debt?”

  “He mentioned something about doing you a favor, but he wasn’t specific. ”

  Katherine tapped her pint thoughtfully with a single unpainted fingernail.

  “I would have thought he’d have told you. But it’s like him to keep another person’s confidence. ”

  She removed her glasses, placing them on the table.

  “Six years ago, I was in phased retirement in Toronto. Jeremy Martin hired Gabriel to replace me, but I was still supervising graduate students and teaching a seminar.

  “At the beginning of the fall semester, I received an email from an old friend here in Oxford. He told me that our former professor, John Hutton, was in hospice dying of cancer. ”

  “I know Professor Hutton’s work. He was one of the sources for my paper. ”

  “Old Hut probably forgot more information about Dante than I ever knew. ” Katherine’s expression grew almost wistful. “When I received news that he was dying, I’d already begun teaching my seminar. And I’d agreed to deliver a series of lectures on Dante and the seven deadly sins for the CBC. I approached Jeremy and asked if it would be possible to take a week off so I could come here. ”

  Katherine’s sharp gaze missed very little, and she certainly didn’t miss seeing Julia start at the mention of Professor Martin’s name.

  “Jeremy was an ally to both of you last year. He tried very hard to help Gabriel, but in the end, there was only so much he could do. ”

  Julia shifted in her seat. “I always wondered why he helped Christa transfer to his alma mater. There were rumors they were involved. ”

  “Rumors hurt people. Sometimes, they hurt innocent people. I expect better from you, Mrs. Emerson, than to be listening to gossip about Professor Martin. ”

  Julia grew flustered.

  “I’m sorry. You’re right, of course. ”

  “I’ve known Jeremy and his wife for years. Believe me, Christa Peterson couldn’t catch his eye if she were naked, holding the original manuscript of The Decameron and a case of beer. ”

  Julia stifled a laugh at Professor Picton’s imaginative description, such as it was.

  “Two days after I explained my situation, Jeremy approached Gabriel. In short order, he volunteered to take over my seminar and any other responsibilities while I was away. ”

  “I didn’t know that. ”

  Katherine tipped her head to one side. “But it shouldn’t surprise you. Gabriel likes to do his good deeds in secret, I think, but that he does them is unremarkable. When he volunteered to help he was a first-year assistant professor, just out of graduate school. It was an extraordinary kindness on his part for someone he knew only in passing. As it happened, I was away until after Christmas, burdening him with everything for four long months. And then afterward, when I came home, he was a very good friend to me. So as you can appreciate, I owe him a debt. ”

  “I’m sure he was happy to help, Professor. After everything you’ve done for us, the debt is more than forgotten. ”

  Katherine paused, peering at their surroundings thoughtfully. “Gabriel tells me you’re an admirer of the Inklings. ”

  “I am. Did you know them?”

  “I met Tolkien once, when I was a little girl. My father was a Beowulf specialist at Leeds and he and Tolkien used to correspond with one another. I came down on the train with my father to visit him. ”

  “What was he like?”

  Katherine sat back in her chair and regarded the ceiling.

  “I liked him. At the time, I simply thought of him as old, like my father. But I can recall that he coaxed me into telling him a story I’d made up about a family of badgers that lived behind our house. He seemed quite taken by it. ” She gestured to the corner in which they sat. “This was the exact spot where the Inklings used to meet. ”

  Julia slowly examined the space. As a child, hiding in her room with a stack of Narnia books, she would never have imagined that one day she would be sitting where Lewis sat. It was nothing short of a miracle.

  “Thank you for bringing me here. ” Her voice almost caught in her throat.

  “My pleasure. ”

  Katherine’s expression shifted.

  “It took me almost an entire semester to see Old Hut. When I arrived in Oxford, his wife banned me from the hospice. I showed up every day for weeks, hoping to change her mind, hoping that he wouldn’t pass away before I could see him. ”

  “Who would be so cruel?”

  “You ask this question after the Shoah? After countless instances of genocide? Human beings can be incredibly cruel.

  “In the case of Old Hut, I was the cruel one and I paid for it. But that semester, it was Mrs. Hutton’s opportunity to exact her revenge, with interest. ”

  “I’m so sorry. ”

  Professor Picton waved her hand. “Gabriel gave me the chance to make my peace. I will always be in his debt, which means I feel a special responsibility for you. ”

  “Were you able to see your friend?”

  “Mrs. Hutton’s aunt fell ill. While she was visiting her, I managed to see the professor. By then, he was near death, but we were able to talk.

  “I came back to Toronto and worked through my depression. But I never told Gabriel the entire story, or why it was so important for me to see John before he died. ” Katherine pursed her lips, looking as if she were divided about something. Then she shrugged.

  “All the i
mportant players are dead, with the exception of me. There’s no point in keeping it a secret. ” She looked at Julia over her glass. “I don’t expect you to keep things from your husband, but I ask that you be discreet. ”

  “Of course, Professor. ”

  Katherine wrapped her aged fingers around her pint.

  “Old Hut and I were involved while I was his student, and afterward, when I taught at Cambridge. He was married. Lucky for me, no one found out about us while I was living here in Oxford. But eventually, there were rumors, and the rumors followed me for ten years. ”

  Julia’s mouth dropped open.

  Katherine glanced at her, her blue eyes sparkling in what could have been amusement.

  “I see you’re surprised. But I wasn’t always this old. In my day, I was considered attractive. And is it really so surprising? People work closely together on something they’re passionate about, and that passion has to go somewhere. Dante speaks of it when he describes Paolo and Francesca. ”

  Katherine replaced her glasses on her face.

  “When I was trying to get an academic position, the gossip became particularly vicious. There were those among my student colleagues who were jealous of Old Hut’s attentions and the fact that he clearly preferred me. Even without evidence of our amour, they began circulating stories that he authored my research. In fact, someone wrote to the University of Cambridge after I’d applied for a job there, claiming that Old Hut wrote a letter of recommendation for me simply because I was sleeping with him. ”

  Julia laughed.

  Then she clapped a hand to her mouth.

  “I’m so sorry. That isn’t funny. ”

  Katherine’s eyes twinkled.

  “Of course it’s funny. You should have seen his recommendation letter. He wrote, Miss Picton is competent in the study of Dante. I was his lover, for God’s sake. Don’t you think he could have troubled himself to write more than one sentence?”

  While Julia stared in horror, Professor Picton chuckled.

  “I can make light of it now, but I was unhappy for many years. I fell in love with a married man and I mourned not having him all to myself. No marriage, no children. Once I began presenting my research, the rumors died. People heard my lectures, some of which disagreed with Old Hut’s positions, and they realized I knew what I was talking about. I worked very hard to make a name for myself and to come out from under his shadow. That’s why when he was dying, the only other person who knew what had transpired between me and Old Hut was his wife. ”

  Katherine stared at Julia intently.

  “I tried my best to discredit Miss Peterson this morning and I will continue to do so. But even if I fail, eventually everyone will move on to the latest scandal. By the time you have your own faculty position, the rumors will be forgotten. ”

  “That’s six years away, Professor. ”

  Professor Picton smiled. “Given what I’ve shared with you this evening, I think you should call me Katherine. ”

  “Thank you, Katherine. ” Julia returned her smile shyly.

  “You can help people forget the gossip by being excellent. If you prove yourself, all the gossip in the world can’t diminish it. It’s possible you’ll have to work harder than others, but I don’t think you’re bothered by hard work. Are you?”

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